Casey Lawrence “From Cap and Apron to Bella Cohen: the genetics of vicelike corsets”

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Casey Lawrence’s presentation was well-organized and practiced. The focus of the presentation was tight (I won’t say corsetted) and properly so for the short duration of the time allowed. 

I was recently surreptitiously prodded to contribute to a student’s assignment: What is the theme of the Circe episode of Ulysses? I declined to write content in response to the coyly-asked question since I would never know what grade I received for the assignment. I limited my response to a prompt rather than content fit to be plagiarized. “Transformation,” I wrote.

Every reader of Ulysses personalizes the novel. I do, certainly. My prism for thinking about the Circe episode is a focus on, in Molly’s rendering, “metAmpsychosis,” the sharing of a soul by Bloom and Stephen. I recognize that Bloom’s purpose in the novel is to represent all humanity, both genders and every religion. No, this brief report won’t waste any more ink on what the text means to me.

Lawrence’s interpretation is more narrowly focused on “gendering,” although I hesitate to impose any labels on her understanding. Bloom’s nocturnal transformation is seen as a sexually inspired one. 

Of greatest interest to me was the changing composition of sexual characteristics and the range of their influences. This facet of transformation is undeniably, but not exclusively, true of the novel. One need only look to Nora’s delight in walking out in Galway dressed in manly attire (even boldly “hallo-ing” her uncle) to glimpse some of Joyce’s inspiration. Joyce also transformed Molly into a Turk and a gull into a summoned witness.

An important scholarly contribution that Lawrence makes to the understanding of Circe and other “Bits” of Ulysses is the discussion of the serpentine evolution of Tit Bits and Photo Bits from and to “Something-Bits-Something.” Then a photo gazette, now a soft porn tabloid, changing names and publishers, it weaved through decades dodging debts and censure. She offered that Joyce may have seen a copy of one incarnation of the tabloid earlier in its evolution. When he requested that Budgen bring him a copy of the publication from England, he was delivered a source that was very different in its degree of prurience from the one he remembered. However, if there is a mistake in the representation of the manifestation of “Something-Bits-Something” in 1904, it would have no bearing on Joyce’s intention and meaning as he wrote the episode.

Previously, I have expressed that I think it is a disservice to subscribers (for that is what we are who contribute to offset the expenses of events) not to provide materials used in the delivery of online or in-person presentations. Lawrence’s PERT chart depicting the archeology of Bits would have been useful and appreciated.

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